Titus (1999)

Anthony Hopkins (Titus), Jessica Lange (Tamora), Alan Cumming (Saturninus), Henry Lennix (Aaron)

Directed by Julie Traymor (Frida)

Summary: You can read the Wikipedia plot summary here. My review of the play itself can be found here.

Reviews for this adaptation of Titus Andronicus by Shakespeare would have to range dramatically (I think DKM hated it). Traymor's interpretation is so stylistically extreme that I cannot imagine an easy consensus as to the success of her project. For my part, I was vastly entertained despite a number of truly baffling, cringe-worthy moments.

At 168 minutes and no less than 13 nasty-ass murders, Titus is no light-weight fare. However Traymor's version, based on her mid-90s stage adaptation, accentuated dark, tawdry, comic elements that might otherwise have been lost or disregarded by a more serious approach. I mean - Alan Cumming as Saturninus, the Roman emperor? He's Alan Cumming, not an authority figure. But the point is that, when viewed as the sum of his ineffectual, greedy actions, Saturninus is not an authority figure either. Cumming was over-the-top and deadpan all at once, as per his usual, but he enlivened a character I found predictable and pathetic in the play.

Jessica Lange... some tricks of costume or even various modes of comporting herself conspired to make her appear of various ages. In the woods with Aaron, she looked ravishing in red and sported a very youthful hairstyle and natural make-up. During the finale, when her plot has been foiled and she unknowingly awaits Titus's ultimate revenge, she looked like Florence Henderson in really bad Halloween make-up. Her appearance fluctuated in consort with her waxing and waning moments of control.

Hopkins bored me, but Titus as a character is just too tedious for words. The man is insane and should stand as a negative example to anyone who ever sought glory in the defense of their country. When the country so chooses, such sacrifices can be studious ignored. And any movie in which Hopkins discusses cannibalism just reeks of some low knock-off of his Silence of the Lambs performance.

Ah, but the star of this movie is Henry Lennix, just as the star of Titus Andronicus is Aaron. The devil. Unrepentant. Nasty as you wanna be, multiplied by ten. And Lennix was just awesome. His charisma and command, his joviality, and the utter relish with which he played Aaron was such fun to watch. He was, in his own way, as over-the-top as Cumming, but with such a spark of malicious seriousness.

There were, however, a few Very Bad Moments. To name a few: the dream sequences, the jarring moment when I realized that this was not a straight-forward adaptation but a post-modern pastiche, the bullet-time finale, and Alan Cumming stretched naked over an equally naked Jessica Lange. Shudder. But in spite of those weird, strange missteps, I found the overall venture not only inventive but highly entertaining. For all of its violence (and there is a LOT), Traymor managed to find the gleeful, nasty fun inside the tragedy, the result of which was riveting if only to see how her experiment might succeed or blow up in her face.

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